Not everyone is looking for a long-term relationship, but most people who are in committed relationships are interested in keeping love alive for the duration. If everyone could afford regular romantic getaways, it might be easier. And if our time, money and energy weren't already dedicated to carrying out our busy lives, we might have more of it for planning romantic evenings, giving thoughtful gifts and maintaining a robust sex life. The truth is that most of us have limited funds and other demands on our time and money that make it hard to prioritize quality time with our significant others.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to bring a renewed sense of vitality to your relationship that don't involve spending large chunks of your savings or your time. Experts agree that a healthy sex life is key, with good communication the hand that turns it. Here are five positive ways to nurture these aspects of your relationship and keep the home fires burning.
Mind Your Manners
What's that old saying -- "Familiarity breeds contempt"? This may be true for some, but more often, familiarity makes people take each other for granted. In his book, "The 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships," David Niven, PhD, says, "We define our relationships based not on the best days or the worst days but on the average days. Strive to be supportive in average ways on average days, and you will set in place a major building block of a relationship." Indeed, recent research shows that gratitude is associated with satisfaction and happiness in a relationship [source: Woznicki].
One way to be supportive of your partner is to be grateful for the things he or she does for you. Say "thank you" often and sincerely, and say it for even the most mundane things. Holding the door open, passing the sugar and picking up the dry cleaning are more obvious occasions, but what about when your partner cooks dinner or changes the baby's diaper? Be grateful even for the abstract things your partner does, like making you laugh when you're grouchy, remembering just how you like your coffee or putting on the perfect music to soothe your racing mind at the end of a long day. Challenge yourself by expressing gratitude even when you're in the middle of an argument.
The more instances you find to be grateful, the more you become aware of all the tiny acts of love that pass between you and your partner on a regular basis. Just recognizing them will cast a new light on your relationship and ignite a little spark.
Break Up the Routine
Routine has its place in a busy life, but the danger is that the routine will become a rut, leading to boredom, laziness and sometimes to the case on the previous page, in which things are taken for granted and no one remembers to commit tiny acts of love or express gratitude.
Part of the trick to overcoming routine is to plan ahead, and part of it is being spontaneous. You'll need to plan for a date with your partner: Make the dinner reservations, schedule the babysitter and pick out your outfit. Even so, there are ways to introduce something new into your plan. Try a new restaurant, wear a color you don't normally wear or undo one more button on that favorite top you always wear.
Planning sex on a schedule can be either a boon or a hindrance to passion, so try making a date for sex, but also be open to finding ways to make sex happen if the mood strikes. If sex has become a lower priority, reprioritize! As Dr. Phil says, "Use it or lose it."
Being open to inspiration is the key to spontaneity. A shoulder rub while watching a movie is relaxing and might inspire lusty thoughts about what to do when the movie ends. Saying "I love you" (ideally followed by a kiss) is easiest of all; you just have to open your mouth and make the sounds.
Learn to Argue Well
Some couples may be afraid to argue, believing that it's a sign that they aren't compatible or fearing that the argument will be the end of the relationship. Others use it as a prelude to passionate make-up sex. However, couples who know how to argue well find that it strengthens their connection with each other, and a strong relationship is a safe space for airing differences. According to the experts, it's not the differences between partners that cause conflict, it's how they handle their differences [source: Polston and Golant].
Here are some tips for arguing well:
- Learn to listen as well as express yourself. You may find that the whole argument stemmed from a simple misunderstanding, in which case you can move right on to the make-up sex.
- Respect your partner's beliefs and don't expect to change his or her mind. Your goal is to understand each other; you don't have to agree.
- Uncensored anger may be unproductive. If the intensity of your anger surprises even you, it might be best to take a few moments before you say anything. As freeing as it might feel to call your partner names and hurl expletives (or vases), you'll just put your partner on the defensive.
- Make it about finding a resolution for BOTH of you, not just one of you. If only one of you wins, you both lose. Go for a win-win! (Warning: This means compromise.)
Maintain Outside Relationships
A couple's relationship can be both complicated and enhanced by outside relationships. Not all outside relationships will fit well into a couple's life together. Some of them, like those with mothers-in-law, can't exactly be avoided, but others can, and they should be kept separate from the couple's relationship. These friendships can enhance the couple's time together by giving each person time and space to nurture and develop interests that the partner doesn't necessarily share. A lunch date with a coworker is a much better outlet for discussing a work project than dinner at home. And sometimes it's really nice to be able to enjoy an inside joke without having to explain it to your significant other.
At the same time, it's healthy for couples to have friends they hang out with together. These friendships provide a way for a couple to be social together and explore common interests. They can also be a source of positive feedback for the relationship.
In the big picture, good relationships with family and friends, both singly and as a couple, can enhance the relationship and keep it lively and vital. Plus, research shows that people with a strong social network live longer, healthier lives.
Grooming and Hygiene
Remember at the beginning of your relationship when you always looked your best for each other, when not even a nose hair was out of place? As time passes, it's hard to maintain the same attention to appearance as we did in the beginning, what with the baby spit-up, weekly housecleaning and gardening chores, and lazy Sundays. If your relationship has lost a little of its fizzle, take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror. Paying just a little extra attention to grooming and hygiene can make the idea of spontaneous sex a lot more appealing.
Men, have you shaved recently or trimmed your facial hair (and removed food crumbs)? Trimmed your fingernails and toenails? Ladies, are you so comfortable in your favorite T-shirt-slash-nightgown that your lingerie has been forgotten in the back of the closet? Finally, everyone, have you bathed recently?
Don't forget about the importance of your surroundings. Groom your environment for romance with a little creative and cheap home redecorating. Dim the lighting or turn it off altogether and light some candles. Dress up the bed with extra pillows and soft, luxurious sheets to roll around in together. Try aromatherapy: Jasmine, ylang ylang and vanilla are scents that have been used for hundreds of years to arouse the senses and inspire sexy thoughts [source: Vukovic].
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- Block, Joel D. and Kimberly Dawn Neumann. "Sex Comes First: 15 Ways to Save Your Relationship." Adams Media. 2009.
- Dr. Phil. "Putting Passion Back Into Your Relationship." (Feb. 10, 2011) http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/158
- Niven, David. "The 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It." HarperCollins. 2003.
- Polston, Betty L. and Susan K. Golant. "Loving Midlife Marriage: a Guide to Keeping Romance Alive From the Empty Nest Through Retirement." John Wiley & Sons. 1999.
- Vukovic, Laurel. "Aromatherapy for Romance." The Herb Companion. January/February 2006. (Feb. 11, 2011)http://www.herbcompanion.com/Body-Care/Aromatherapy-for-Romance.aspx
- Woznicki, Katrina. "A Little Gratitude Keeps Relationships Strong." WebMD. May 24, 2010. (Feb. 10, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/news/20100524/a-little-gratitude-keeps-relationsihps-strong